STILLWATER — Marcus Smart came clean Saturday. And was it ever cleansing, for him and the Cowboys and a big and boisterous crowd at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Admitting that he hadn't been having fun — not in a long time — despite his own recent declarations to the contrary, Smart looked like the 2012-13 version of himself, producing one of his signature stat lines: 16 points, a career-high 10 assists, six steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots.
And Smart's joy was evident, too, from the outset of what became a freewheeling and frolicking 84-62 rout of Texas Tech.
“That's exactly what it was, it was fun,” Smart said, “for the first time in a long time.”
“Probably the Memphis game,” he said.
And the first Memphis game, way back on Nov. 19. The Cowboys did a lot of winning after that, so the lack of smiles and good vibrations that had become so evident wasn't tied strictly to the losing streak that had stretched to seven games before Saturday.
“It's kind of what Coach Ford said to us in the locker room, this was one of the first times he'd seen us smile — everybody was out there smiling and having fun,” Smart said. “And that's what we need to get back doing. We just want to work on that every day.”
Smart went to work on that immediately in his first game back from a three-game suspension, pumping his fist repeatedly after a steal and a layup that became a three-point play when he was fouled and made the free throw in the game's opening minutes.
The sequence was vintage Smart from last season. And similar scenes followed — two steals off inbounds passes that led to back-to-back baskets; points coming from close range or at the line; assists going to each of the other four starters, plus reserve Christien Sager.
“I think Marcus was the difference,” said Le'Bryan Nash, who struck for three of his four dunks on feeds from Smart. “Getting our point guard back, our leader on the team … Marcus comes back and he responds — 10 assists, that's what helped us win, him just controlling the game. You can tell, he controlled the whole game.
“That's what we need. We need him back. What can you say, that's an A-plus performance from him.”
Smart found the greatest pleasure in his 10 assists, which in turn spread smiles throughout the squad.
“That was my focus coming back, trying to find these guys,” Smart said. “They work hard on the defensive end, so I try to reward them on the offensive end. These guys made the shots and they were in the right places.”
With Smart again acting as the rudder, the Cowboys resembled the team that once projected to contend for the Big 12 title. Five players scored in double figures, and the team totaled 20 assists, its most in conference play.
And as OSU continued to build on its lead, everything seemed tied to Smart.
“He affected the game in a lot of ways,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “That's what we need from him, because he has that ability. Whatever you do well, that's what we need you to do. He has the ability to affect the game in a lot of different ways, and he did that. He played the way he's capable of playing.”
Nash scored a game-high 21 points, Phil Forte added 20, Markel Brown 11 and Kamari Murphy 10, as OSU improved to 17-10 overall and 5-9 in the Big 12. The losing streak behind them, the Cowboys now have an opportunity at building momentum with a Monday visit to last-place TCU, which is still winless in the league.
“We can start a winning streak now,” Nash said. “Instead of a losing streak, we can start a winning streak. Coach Ford is happy now. Everybody's in a good mood now in the locker room. That's a good thing.
“We've got to keep pushing. Keep moving on.”